Why it took 34 years to own my artistic identity and what you can learn from my misgivings

Identity is a large part of who we are, it’s a message to self and others affirming, “this is how I choose to be known and seen.”

It took me 34 years to wholly own my identity as a singer and writer, a both painful and rewarding process. The final straw that drove this change was becoming a mother, for how could I ask my son to fully own his individuality when I wasn’t fully owning mine?

And so, I did. I have.

By reading this, I hope it gives you some form of validation in knowing you are not alone in your discovery of self. I hope it gives you the courage to own that part of yourself you have hidden due to perceived obligation or fear. I hope it shows you its OK to not know what it is you are even searching for, remaining comfortable in the ambiguity.

It was a struggle coming to terms with this part of myself. I was scared. I felt unheard and alone. I was challenged by loved ones who wished I could simply own it, unaware of the inner struggle that lingered. A struggle that could not and would not be wished away with a thought or word. One that couldn’t be loved or laughed away. It had to be lived and challenged and even then, it wouldn’t fully dissipate. A struggle that can only be accepted and challenged with every small daily action taken, bringing one closer to the realisation, that, “yes indeed, maybe I am”.

The challenges that led to this lack of belief are named below, and with them a reflection of what you can learn so you reach the conclusion sooner than I did, that you deserve to live your truth.

  1. Self- doubt

Its hard to own oneself and remain inspired when you undermine the very qualities that make you exceptional. How can you accept or even achieve when you believe you are not worthy or good enough?

Every time I strove to own my creativity and got rejected, I sunk, shrunk a little lower, taking this as proof of my unworthiness. This doubt fed on my courage and self-efficacy. How could I wear this identity when those I sort validation from did not even believe in me?

“I can’t” soon became my self-fulfilling prophecy.

I told myself I was incapable, not talented enough and eventually this became my reality.

When we are convinced, we can’t, we make less of an effort. We diminish our potential. We wonder why we even try.

It has taken a long time to unlearn this belief, yet even now I still have moments of doubt, but through therapy, acceptance and self-compassion I have managed to keep this limiting (potentially self-fulfilling) belief at bay.

If I don’t try I won’t fail.

It was my final year in high school, and 2 days to my final history exam. Now, the highest grade I’d ever gotten in any secondary history test was a B. But for the first time, I made a very intentional decision that even if I hated studying, I’d take the initiative and study for my history exam. I was focused and deliberate about what I wanted and how I’d achieve it. 

Three months later the results were announced, and for the first and last time ever I had an A in history.

I wasn’t as deliberate when it came to my music, I didn’t know how I would create beats, instrumental accompaniments or even melodies to the words I’d written. I used this an excuse as to why I would not create music. I had decided I wouldn’t be able to have a music career so I didn’t try and blamed my failure on the lack of producers and musicians I could collaborate with. It became an inventive way to shift the blame away from me and onto something outside myself. I had forgotten how well I did when I tried.

“I shouldn’t” nurtured the impostor.

“It is only a matter of time until people around me discover I am incapable of writing and although I can sing, I can’t create interesting music.” And so, she was born, Jay, the imposter.

By assigning our achievements to sheer luck rather than ourselves, we prevent ourselves from seeing that we are just as worthy as everyone else.

I’d like to think we are all special, only difference is some of us recognise it.

  1. I want it all, now!

This sounds and feels so obvious, yet so many of us delude ourselves to the fact that we are generally deserving in a short space of time. Sometimes some people get there after a single attempt, but they are the exception, most of us must put in the work daily, create and even then, nothing is guaranteed.

Thinking long term, and making steady progress, day by day, is what generates real results. With patience and consistency, eventually you will stumble upon a breakthrough.

Don’t Force It

All good things take time, let it flow.

Respect Your Process

You are you. Play on your strengths and use them to your advantage. Everyone works differently and has their own quirks and habits that work for them. Don’t get down on yourself when you aren’t able to write the greatest melody heard the first 10 times or write 5 hours daily or wake up at 5am. There’s an optimal process that each of us follows. You need to respect yours.

Getting distracted isn’t a bad thing. Do what you enjoy, take breaks, and let things happen organically because often times, it is in these unsuspecting activities that our mind truly opens up.

Make Progress

It doesn’t matter if you do a little or a lot on a daily basis. The only criteria is that you are getting closer to your goal everyday. If that’s searching for a breakthrough, engage with focused, conscious thinking for a couple hours, but don’t burn yourself out. Take a break and let the subconscious take over for awhile. The point is progress, not immediacy. Slow and steady.

  1. Messaging and myths

The starving artist myth

I do not think any of us want to starve so how can we align our want to create and our want to make money? This myth assumes you must pick one or the other.

The overnight success Myth

Our culture loves the “overnight success” story. The one of the graffiti artist that gets discovered by a generous patron and her work is placed in a famous gallery, or the single working father whose novel gets read and picked up by a major publisher, landing him a large advance and title of the #1 New York Best Seller.

The truth is the concept of working hard for years and finally getting some sort of recognition is far more realistic yet far less interesting than the overnight success. Not many want to read about the podcaster who took 12 years to get a midday slot on a radio station or the novelist that wrote 5 books before she was able to make enough money to start writing full time and leave her receptionist role. These stories are less charming, however carry the power of the wait, a worthwhile lesson for those of us who choose the road less travelled.

The Rapunzel Artist Myth

Stuck and locked in a tower, waiting for someone or something to come to our rescue, that’s the Rapunzel Artist myth.

We believe that somebody will discover us and lead us out of our poverty-like state. Or our rescuer will appear in the form of some kind of divine artistic inspiration, and we can sit around in some kind of fog and wait for that inspiration to arrive so we can feverishly begin the journey it sees fit for us.

Recognising we owe it to ourselves to find our way home out of the tower is the best way out.

  1. Striving for perfection and never doing in the process

Perfection is a killer. Many projects have died an unnatural death in my computer archives.

Putting your best at the time, then handing the project to the world and moving on is a much better way to create.

  1. Stuck, green and unaware.

I was lost, green and unaware. Finding partnerships and collaborators proved difficult. During the process of sourcing people to work with and classes to take, I have learnt the hard way that people have a vested self-interest. I spent a lot of money and resources before I finally realised I needed to be smarter with the way I spent my money. It was through the mistakes and bad choices that I came up with smarter ways of sourcing the things I needed such as music production, graphic design resources, industry knowledge and studio time. I have created a document I wish I had with all the resources you’ll need to start up for branding, music production, learning, and insight in the music industry.

What now?

I redefined the meaning of success. For me success no longer means being a household name or selling a million records worldwide, it means recognising and establishing what my purpose is and living it out daily.

My purpose is to create, share, inspire and hopefully at some point make a living doing it. My purpose to bring up my child through example and encourage him to be, feel and think authentically. Based on my definition, I am succeeding every day. We are not trying, we are doing and succeeding. This is the best part, right here and now. The annoying administrative work, the article that you toiled over for several days that helped uncover an injustice, a love song that encapsulated a man’s love for his husband, a textile design collaboration that encourages people to fund the building of a dam in South Sudan, your art that brought a mother and son back together after a feud, a short film that inspired a 12-year old’s essay on respecting others. These might be the emotions and movements you inspire through your artistic expression. Do not deny the world this honour.

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